As national security secrets have been spilled by a whistle-blower, the liberal community has been almost schizophrenic in its response. On the one hand, liberals don’t want to identify with and support oppressive measures that began under the administration of George W. Bush.
On the other hand, many are making the case that we need extreme measures in order to keep the country safe from the extreme menace of terrorism.
I fall in the part of the spectrum that believes our reaction to the threat of terrorism is worse than the terrorism itself. ‘They–the terrorists–win when we are controlled by fear and manipulated to give up our basic rights and freedoms.
The whistle-blower who gave the National Security Agency(NSA)’s secret documents about its worldwide surveillance program to the?Guardian asked on Sunday that the newspaper reveal his identity to the world. He is 29 year-old ex-CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden. For the last four years, Snowden has been working for outside contractors, at the National Security Agency.
Going public with his identity allows him to speak directly to the audience that his actions were meant to benefit: the American public. Unfortunately, he is speaking from Hong Kong, where he has been holed up for three weeks, trying to determine his next step and listening for the knock on his hotel room door that means the authorities have found him. Snowden is hoping for asylum in either Hong Kong or Iceland because both places have a strong history of protecting free speech. Hong Kong, of course, is now a part of China, which would seem to work against Snowden’s goal. However, as an article in The Atlantic Wire?points out, China may be the only country in the world strong enough to stand up to the U.S. and refuse to extradite Snowden.
The young man’s interviews with the Guardian?have continued so he was able, in his own words, to explain on video why he took the steps he did. Poignantly, he said, “I do not expect to see home again”, but he believes he did the right thing. On why he decided to become a whistle-blower, he explained:
The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards. I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things ? I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.
About whether he believes that his actions constitute a crime, he remarked:
We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me. They have narrowed the public sphere of influence.
As for the NSA’s relationship with Congress, he says that:
The NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinized most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.
Furthermore, on the U.S. protests over hacking by other countries, such as China, he said:
We hack everyone everywhere. We like to make a distinction between us and the others. But we are in almost every country in the world. We are not at war with these countries.
And about whether citizens can protect themselves against state surveillance, this is his frightening answer:
You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.
He described years of progressive disillusionment as he learned all that the government was capable of doing. That disillusionment led him to take action even though it meant giving up a comfortable lifestyle and all the significant relationships in his life. He described his primary drive as a desire to trigger a debate:
My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them…I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.
And he worries about the lack of public oversight, about the possibility that people like him can go much further than they should be allowed to.
Snowden’s revelations certainly achieved his goal of creating a debate, which he has been watching on television and online, while doing his best to protect his location. He’s satisfied with the level of discourse, saying:
I think the sense of outrage that has been expressed is justified. It has given me hope that, no matter what happens to me, the outcome will be positive for America. I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want.
The American public owes him at least that much, to conduct a thorough, public examination of the issues. Edward Snowden has sacrificed his entire lifestyle for an uncertain future that probably involves prison. The issues are neither liberal nor conservative; they aren’t the property of a particular party. But liberals need to overcome their reluctance to talk about what’s going on, as do conservatives. Everyone has had a hand in establishing The Patriot Act as the law of the land and allowing the power of the NSA to mushroom.
As James Fallows of The Atlantic?wrote about the controversy:
The United States and the world have gained much more, in democratic accountability, than they have lost in any way with the revelation of these various NSA monitoring programs.
But democratic accountability only comes from bringing the secrets into the light, in debating and deciding who we really want to be: cowards terrified of our own shadows who are ruled by fear, or truth-seekers who would rather die free than live trapped by an all-knowing, surveillance society.
LATEST DEVELOPMENT: Late Sunday, Icelandic legislator and co-founder of?Icelandic legislator and co-founder of Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, Birgitta Jonsdottir, said she is ready to help Edward Snowden seek asylum in Iceland. In her words:
?These exposures [by Snowden] have verified our greatest fears about the state of global intelligence gathering, and yet again highlighted the need for strong privacy protections and government transparency.?